May 24, 2016

"Soulless perfection" is the wrong goal

Anyone who watched the final season of American Idol will recall Dalton Rapattoni, the blue-eyed, blond-haired, baby-faced, guy-liner-wearing rocker who took third place in the show's final competition.

Dalton was memorable for his unconventional delivery of surprising song choices, like show tunes "The Phantom of the Opera" and "Hopelessly Devoted to You," which he performed in his own unique style. In fact, the judges came up with a new word for Dalton's take on each week's song: "Daltonized."

Here's the thing about Dalton, and about many of Idol's top contestants over the 15-year run of the show: He was imperfect.

Sure, he's cute, and he's got a great look for the stage. But he didn't have the chops of season 15 top two performers La'Porsha Renae or Trent Harmon. Not even close. And as Simon Cowell used to remind us (frequently), "This is a singing competition."

But no, singing ability was not the top concern of the judges or the millions of fans who voted each week.

Guess what people were voting on (besides the singing): Connection.

Ah yes, there it is again. But what Dalton and others demonstrated was that a performer who doesn't necessarily have the best skills can overcome those limitations with personality and connection.

As Keith Urban said after one of Dalton's performances: "I'd always take an inspired attempt over soulless perfection any day of the week."

What are your limitations as a speaker?

You're not as funny as the next guy? Your stories could use some work? Your knowledge still has some holes? You're still gaining experience and don't come across as polished as some others who've been in the trenches longer?

These things are all fixable. You have plenty of time to grow and improve as a speaker. Keep working, keep reaching, keep blossoming.

And in the meantime, your #1 goal is to be real, to be 100% YOU, and to connect with the audience in your own genuine style, with your own genuine personality.

There's not one speaker, singer, musician, politician or performer who benefits from exhibiting "soulless perfection." And your audience certainly doesn't benefit. Nor will they respond emotionally to your robotic flawlessness.

But an "inspired attempt?" Yes! Let's all seek to be inspired when we perform, and to inspire our audiences to take action in the process, by being true to who we are and fully embracing that person.

P.S. I'm a little sad to realize that this is probably my last ever American Idol-inspired post. AI has been a great inspiration to me over the years, providing numerous examples for connecting speakers with principles of performance. Thanks to all the judges and performers for showing us what works and what doesn't (and what REALLY doesn't) on stage, and how to emotionally engage our audiences.

May 10, 2016

Will the timing ever be right?

How many times have you waited to start something until the timing has been "right?"

How did that go? Did you ever start? Did you wait so long that the opportunity was no longer available? Did you wait so long that you lost your chance?

The last three times I signed up for coaching programs, the timing wasn't right. I mean, literally, I signed up late for all three.

One program was starting just as I was coming into the home stretch of planning and delivering my retreat. There was no way I could commit to one more thing on my plate. But I knew this program was going to create some huge shifts for me, and I really wanted to join, and that coach very generously let me put it off for several weeks.

The program before that one, I was expecting a corporate training payment that would cover the cost of the program, but it wasn't going to arrive until the week after the program started. That coach also was very flexible and let me start late, especially since everything was recorded, and I wouldn't actually miss anything.

And the program before that one, I was just about to start delivering my 7-week virtual program, and I was waiting for a couple of participants to sign up in order to make the payment (do you see a theme here?). That coach allowed me the extra week to sign up as well.

All three of these programs have turned out to be critical to the development of my business, and without them, I would still be struggling to figure out who I am as a coach and speaker, how to brand and market myself (well, let's be honest... that's an ongoing process), and how to create and promote my programs, build my mailing list, and attract clients.

Those three coaches didn't judge me or make me feel bad for not being ready at "the right time." They so graciously allowed me the time I needed, and I'm incredibly grateful to them.

Now I want to pay it forward. 

Speak to Engage Mentoring and Mastery started on April 19. Our first live call was recorded, and the resources and materials for the program are still in the process of being added to our private web page. Our first recorded training will be delivered this week.

And I'm holding one spot open for that one person who's been wanting to join but the "timing wasn't right." Are you the one?

I'm going to hold this spot for you for one more week, until next Tuesday, the date of our second live call. (The payment plan is still available.)

I know how it feels to want to join a program so badly, but to be held up by finances, or by timing, or by some other obstruction.

I also know how it feels to make it happen. To suck it up, ask for the extension, join the program late and gain all the benefit!

So I'll ask again: Are you the one?

We're waiting for you. :-)

April 26, 2016

Fear of success is real, and it sucks

At last month's Shake Up Your Speaking retreat, I gave the attendees an exercise that involve picking a temporary tattoo out of a bag, applying it to their arm, and then applying the message on the tattoo to where they were in their speaking journey.

The messages included "Do it now," "Focus," "Courage," "Breathe," "Stand up," "I am powerful," and more. As we went around the room, each woman expressed a clear vision of how her tattoo related to her speaking challenges and goals. It was quite magical.

And then it was my turn, and I could not wrap my head around what my tattoo meant. I had to pass, saying I needed more time to think about it. "Be strong" was my message, and I couldn't relate to it at all. In what way did I need to be strong? It just didn't resonate.

Fast forward to today, a little over one month after the end of the retreat, and now I know what it means. But I didn't know then what I know now, and I hadn't yet experienced what I've experienced since the end of the retreat. So the tattoo was a bit of foreshadowing. It had a message for me that I didn't know I would need.

Have you heard the expression "Fear of success?" Frankly, I always thought it was a ridiculous concept. Who could be afraid of success? Isn't that what we all want, in one way or another?

Well, it happened to me, and now I get it.

After the retreat, I was on a high. Everything went exactly as I expected it to... better, in fact. The participants were a joy to work with, fully engaged and motivated. My team anticipated my every need and the group's needs, and nothing was overlooked. The service given by the hotel was spectacular, the food was abundant and delicious, the view of the ocean across the street was refreshing and inspiring. Attendees left feeling well taken care of, with clear takeaways, intentions and action steps. I mean, it really could not have gone better.

Well... a couple of days later I dropped into a downward spiral. I had spent way more money on the retreat than I had intended, and had a big credit card bill to pay. I got back an evaluation that I took to heart as proof that I hadn't done a good job. A less-than-supportive response from one of my coaches left me feeling like I was still so far from where I wanted to be. And suddenly I started thinking, "It was too good to be true. I knew it wasn't as great as it seemed at the time. Why do I even put myself out there in the world? Why do I expose myself to criticism? Why can't I just hide and be small? Why can't everyone just love me and think I'm perfect?"

I laugh now as I read this, but it was all so real in the moment. And I realized that I was experiencing fear of success!

As Rocky says to Adrian in Rocky III, "You wake up one day thinking you're a winner, but you're not. You're a loser. So we wouldn't have had the title as long. So what? At least it would have been real."

He believes that the fights his manager had set up for him were chosen because they were easy wins, and that his career was built on a lie. He believed he didn't have it in him to beat a "real" fighter, in top shape and in his prime. And if he were to fight a top fighter, he would be exposed as the loser he really is.

This is exactly what I was going through. I had dreamed of putting on a successful event like my retreat for so long, and had worked so hard on it. Was I kidding myself that it was a success? I mean, were all the participants just being polite and trying to make it through the 2 1/2 days the best they could, but really feeling like it was a waste of time? If it wasn't actually a success, and I was just imagining that it was, then I would be embarrassed and want to hide my face from the world. If it really WAS a success, could I ever replicate it or improve upon it?

Well, that was a revelation. And that's where the "Be Strong" tattoo finally made sense to me. It took a lot of mental and emotional strength to look at what I had created with open eyes and open heart. Was it a success? No question. Can I improve it? Absolutely! Can I listen to feedback without feeling like dying? I'm getting better at it. :-) Was it one of the best learning experiences of my life? You betcha.

The thing is, I know what my destiny is. My destiny, my purpose, is to teach, support and help others grow. I've known that since I was a little girl. Everything in my life has led me to this place. It's where I'm meant to be. How I reach people, how I teach them and help them grow - that changes all the time. And I have to be strong every time I put myself out there, try something new, and set new goals for myself about the most effective ways of helping my clients. There will be criticism. What and how I teach isn't for everyone.

But I can't stop doing it, because it's who I am, and I can't stop doing it, because I know I help people. 

Self-doubt sucks. Fear of success sucks. And we all go through these things at times.

Just last week I totally nailed a presentation. I felt it in my bones. The energy was incredible. Afterward, I got requests for coaching and business collaborations. It was exactly as I perceived it to be, no worse and no better, and I achieved my goal of facilitating transformation, right then and there, with people who needed it.

Sometimes everything is perfect. And sometimes we need to Be Strong.

March 2, 2016

This is how the pros do it: Kelly Clarkson

By now you've seen last week's performance by Kelly Clarkson on American Idol. It was an extremely moving performance, as we would all agree. What I want to talk about today, however, is her professionalism. This is what a pro looks like, whether performer or speaker (and usually, we're both). (If you haven't seen it or want to watch again, it's below.)

Let's get this part out of the way: She knew and we knew that it was going to be an emotional performance for her. She had already mentioned that there were a few reasons she might cry: She's pregnant; she had written this song when she was pregnant with her first child, so there was nostalgia there; and there was additional nostalgia in the fact that she was the first winner on Idol and now she's performing in the final season.

Now let's talk about how she demonstrated professionalism.

1. How did she know she was going to cry? Well, she rehearsed! Do you think Kelly Clarkson ever wings a performance? Absolutely not. She had most certainly rehearsed this performance and had already found it emotional. She was prepared!

2. She created a song and a performance that she knew would connect with the audience in the first place. If you've seen her performances, you know she gives 100% to connecting with the words and with the audience. She never goes through the motions, even when she's performed a song hundreds of times.

3. When she began to be overcome with emotion, she breathed through it. She took her time, but she didn't let it stop her. She remained committed to the performance.

4. On a side note, not about Kelly, pay attention to the band. They are absolutely 100% in tune with her. She pauses, she sings. She breathes, she sings. Talk about professionalism: They stayed with her till the end, never missing a beat or a note. I can't imagine how difficult that must be, but again, this is about rehearsal, preparation and commitment. The band never wavered, even while Kelly was taking unpredictable pauses.

Look back at my recent post on "winging it." You can show up and give a committed and well-prepared presentation, like Kelly Clarkson did, and your audience will be talking about you for days, weeks and even years. Or you can show up and throw away your opportunity to make an impact by not preparing and not caring, and your audience will forget about you minutes later. It's your choice.

February 23, 2016

Optimism: Finding the upside of the inevitable

Today, I was lamenting the lack of rain in Southern California, as we come to the end of our usual "rainy" month with below-seasonal totals. The ongoing severe drought is our #1 concern here, and every day that goes by without rain puts us more and more into a water deficit.

My cousin commented on my post, "So much for all the El NiƱo predictions last summer and fall.... Can't believe how wrong they were."

My immediate thought and response: "Maybe it's good to have hope instead of feeling completely hopeless!"

Welcome to the mind of an optimist. A perpetual silver-lining finder. A person for whom the song "High Hopes" is my true life story.

Today is Tuesday. I've been sick since Saturday. This is not the kind of cold that feels bad for two days and then starts to taper off. It's been bad for all four days. I have a flight to catch out of state in two days. Hmmm.

Here's the process going on in my brain:

"Well, at least I didn't get as sick as my husband, who had a fever and had to go to urgent care after three days of razor blades in his throat."

"It's a good thing my hotel roommate in Austin didn't book our room for Thursday, because there's no way I could fly out on Thursday. I'll probably feel better by Friday."

"If I fly to Austin on Friday, I can check into my hotel and rest all day. I can hold off on going to conference sessions until Saturday."

See how this works? Yes, it comes naturally to me. It's just the way I'm wired. But you can LEARN optimism. And why should a speaker learn optimism? 

Imagine you're invited to speak at an event that you're very nervous about. You can choose your perception about this event. You can choose your attitude about this event.

You can tell yourself one of two things:

"I'm going to make a mistake and the whole thing is going to be a disaster." Or...

"I'm going to make a mistake, but I'm human and everyone makes mistakes. No big deal."

Notice how both of those choices have a touch of reality? Yes, optimists face reality. As a speaker, you absolutely have to be prepared for mistakes and mishaps. It would just be foolish to believe that nothing will go wrong.

But then we figure out how we can find the upside of the inevitable.

Wouldn't this be a better approach as a speaker? To look at your speaking engagements as opportunities to accomplish something - even if it's small - rather than expecting certain failure?

And by the way, before I ever heard of Martin Seligman's concept of "Learned Optimism," I knew this was true. Despite my genetic disposition toward optimism, I've been through some very difficult times where my optimism took a nosedive. My willingness to keep looking for the light at the end of the tunnel, and my willingness to believe that everything is a learning experience got me through those times. And sometimes I had to force myself to really dig for those silver linings.

Seligman's website says, "Specifically, optimistic people believe that negative events are temporary, limited in scope (instead of pervading every aspect of a person’s life), and manageable. Of course, optimism, like other psychological states and characteristics, exists on a continuum. People can also change their levels of optimism depending on the situations they are in."

A client told me about an experience he had last month, where he had to record a radio commercial. He felt surprisingly confident about it because he chose to believe that "There was no reason to believe it wouldn't go well." He told himself that he was in control of his own response to the situation.

This particular client has a LOT of anxiety about speaking. It's not easy for him to make this mental shift. Not even close. But he is learning optimism. He is learning to become more philosophical about how he perceives his speaking opportunities. Instead of choosing "Every reason to believe it will go wrong," he chooses "No reason to believe it won't go well."

You can do this. You can change your thoughts. Will you choose optimism?

February 11, 2016

5 reasons you haven't signed up for the Shake Up Your Speaking retreat

We're getting down to the wire. "Shake Up Your Speaking: Get Real... Get Results" begins on March 21. My Bring-a-Friend rate expires on Friday. And the special hotel block rate (a really great deal!) is going away on February 27.

Is one of the objections below keeping you from making a "yes" decision? If so, allow me to address some of the most common concerns.

1. I'm not sure I can take the time away.

Yes, this retreat is 2 1/2 days long, requiring you to take time away from work. If you're outside the Santa Barbara area, it will also require travel. So I get it. But this time frame allows for complete immersion, in a way that you can't get in a virtual training where everyone is sitting at their computers, watching a webinar while also checking e-mail and Facebook and answering the door for UPS.

In 2 1/2 days, you will experience a greater depth of learning and real collaboration with others who are seeking the same growth and advancement. It's a concentrated approach, and it works best when you're out of your regular environment!

2. I'm not sure I can afford it.

First of all, travel and training are business expenses! If you're an entrepreneur, know that this will be a write-off for you. If you're an employee, consider asking your employer to cover some or all of the expense. Many of my clients get their coaching and training with me subsidized. If you haven't tried it yet, give it a shot!

As I mentioned above, the amount of learning you'll get from this event is highly concentrated. For $397 (the current rate for another couple of weeks), you are getting an amazing amount of value.

For reference, my individual coaching clients pay $1,297 for three hours of my time. You'll be getting the same individual attention over some 24 hours, for a fraction of that rate!

**One more thing: Until tomorrow, you can still split the cost with a friend by using the Bring-a-Friend rate. This also means you have someone to share a hotel room with!

3. I'm pretty sure I can learn everything I want to know about public speaking online for free, or from a $15 book.

Well, the truth is, I offer a ton of free information right here on my Speak Schmeak blog, and if you want to read all 1,500 posts, you will glean a LOT of good learning, as well as from other free speaking content online.

But what you don't get for free online or from a book (or from my blog) is access to me, in person. You'll get coaching and training directly from me and you can ask me any questions you like. This retreat is tailored to YOU and your needs, unlike free information that you can gather online.

​And let me just throw this out there: The minute I started investing in coaching and training (and traveling across the country for it), my business took off. I was in business for SIX YEARS before I paid for any coaching (I was the QUEEN of finding free webinars, e-books and "90-day challenges"), and my growth was very small from year to year. When I started taking seriously and committing to investing in my own learning and growth, everything fell into place. I have gotten a return on every investment I've made in my business, and now my income doubles each year, instead of growing by 5 or 10 percent.

4. I'm not sure this applies to me. I'm an engineer (or lawyer, or fitness trainer, or artist, or pastor, or therapist, or retailer, etc.) and my audiences are "different."

My clients come from every occupational background. I've coached and trained people from all of the occupations mentioned above, as well as health professionals, nonprofit leaders, consultants, commodities brokers, building contractors, IT people, sports coaches, authors, social workers, bankers and more. And a fire chief!

The principles of successful speaking apply to anyone who is out in the world, sharing their message, promoting a business, or educating the community about a cause. Your audiences want to be engaged, they want to connect, they want to learn and grow, and they don't want to be bored! They have fairly simple requests of you. If you want to stand out in your field, above those who AREN'T using speaking as a marketing tool, this is where you'll learn how to do it right.

5. I'm already an experienced speaker - I don't fear speaking and in fact, I love it!

That's great! You're the perfect attendee for this retreat. Because those of us who've been doing this forever sometimes get into a rut, right? We start doing the same thing over and over, because - hey, it still works. We think.... And we're comfortable, and we're maybe a little bit lazy.

If you really want to make an impact on your audience, you need to keep your content and your delivery fresh. You need to keep questioning whether you're offering the most value and the best experience. If you ask yourself these questions and answer honestly, could you be doing better? Could you be getting better results? If so, the retreat is for YOU.

Ready to make that decision?

If you know that it's time to start making a bigger impact with your message, time to raise your speaking to a new level, and time to really commit to mastery, then you'll find the registration page to Shake Up Your Speaking here:

Nine people have already made the commitment to join me here in Santa Barbara in March. Five are flying in from other states to be part of this experience. I've got room for three more. Will you be one of them?

February 8, 2016

Workable idea + bad execution = puppymonkeybaby

If you didn't see the Super Bowl ad with the puppymonkeybaby, you may or may not want to watch this. It's pretty creepy and disturbing. So let's just get it out of the way, shall we?


First of all, I had no recollection of what company this ad represented, nor could I even remember anything about the product it was advertising. I found the creature so distracting and weird, that I missed the point entirely.

However. I do believe that this commercial is an example of an idea that COULD HAVE worked, but the execution is where it went wrong. Just like many presentations I've witnessed over the years!

When we create a message for an audience, we want to make sure that all the pieces work together: the core message, the content, the structure, the delivery and the call to action. Within those are many smaller pieces that must fall into place.

You might have a great idea, but not know how to put it together in a way that is compelling or makes an impact on your audience. All the pieces have to come together. An idea is just an idea until you bring it to life. And once it becomes concrete, you have to be sure that your audience understands it, connects with it, and maybe isn't horrified by it - unless there's a good reason!

I get that Mountain Dew wanted us to know that there are three awesome things that they're putting together into their beverage. And I get that they wanted to use some kind of metaphor/example/imagery for three things that we all like that don't normally show up together. I also get that they were going for the quirky randomness that has worked well for brands like Old Spice. And furthermore, I DO like puppies, monkeys and babies! So, they totally could have scored with this (and no, not just in getting people to talk about the commercial... talk does NOT equal buying).

I'm going to share an example of a re-do, where the idea and execution are better aligned, and I would love to have you share an example if you can come up with one. Let's revamp. Same message: "Three awesome things combined." Same creatures: Puppy, monkey, baby.

My version goes something like this: Guy pulls a can out of the cold case, with a curious look on his face. What's this new drink, he wonders. Either in a voiceover, or in words on the can, we see or hear something about how this drink contains three awesome things combined.

Now, the camera shows his face again, and he starts to imagine three things he likes and how they might go together. Above his head, we see what he's imagining: First a puppy (um, no offense to pug lovers, but a cuter puppy than a pug). Yep, pretty cute. He smiles. Now a monkey joins the puppy. Maybe they interact and play. Maybe not. Then a baby. Now he's nodding at the cuteness of these three critters and enjoying his vision.

They finally fuse into the puppymonkeybaby, which waves at him and startles him from his reverie. He pops the can, takes a drink. Yum. Three awesome things combined.

Okay, I'm not a director, so don't be too hard on me. :-) This is how I envision the same basic idea being executed TOTALLY differently, but perhaps in a way that might be more effective. I don't think the initial idea of three things we like - combined - is necessarily a bad idea. It just went wrong in the implementation. 

How about you? Would you share your revamp of the Mountain Dew commercial with the same basic message and ideas in place? I'd love to read your ideas in the comments!
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